gdc 2017

The Best Indie Games Of GDC 2017

by Kimberley Wallace on Mar 01, 2017 at 08:17 AM

It's that time of a year again! The Game Developers Conference in San Francisco is in full swing. The show offers plenty of insight into game development, but it also hosts a huge assortment of indie games. We scoured the Moscone convention center to get our hands on as many games as possible, vetting through dozens of upcoming indies to let you know what we think you should have on your radar. Check out our evolving, expanding list of the best indie gems from GDC 2017 to learn more about the intriguing titles ahead.

Mineko's Night Market

This adorable market simulation game's art style may look reminiscent of Tearaway, but it has its own charm and engaging gameplay loop that makes it stand on its own. As the name suggests, you run your own weekly night market, dealing with eclectic customers who want to barter. You have dialogue options to win them over and try to get the best sale. By day, you create your own items and collect things out in the wild to sell. Sounds pretty basic until you realize the town you explore has been overrun by cats, which just adds an extra layer of intrigue and cuteness. Expect silly minigames, such as cat races, sumo suit wrestling, karaoke, and taiko drumming to keep you entertained. Seeing the game in action showcased its charm as sillier things kept happening in our demo that made us chuckle. For instance, you can farm and harvest...cats?! Silly as it may be, the game celebrates Japanese culture and friendship, so there's something very endearing about it. Mineko's Night Market is due out in 2018 for PC and Mac. – Kimberley Wallace


Perception

Perception, a game created by former Bioshock developers, made our list last year and returns for good reason: it continues to be a fascinating experience. Set in a creaky, spooky house, you play a blind woman navigating a terrifying setting as she's pursued by a mysterious force. You can find out more about Perception here on developer The Deep Ends' website.  – Javy Gwaltney


Dandara

Recently announced, Dandara is a Metroid-inspired game coming to mobile, PC, Nintendo Switch (the developer says other consoles are also in mind). In it, you must restore a directionless world. During your trek, you explore a gravity-bending world by launching your character onto safe platforms, avoiding obstacles and shooting down baddies with your gun. Movement is quick and fun, testing your twitch skills. There's something satisfying about gliding your character across platforms and obstacles with ease. You can either use a touchscreen and swipe to move your character or use the directional pad to aim her toward her next destination. A lot of Dandara is about learning the landscape, and dying often imparts wisdom. I noticed in my brief demo that every time I died, I progressed faster and more confidently as I knew the landscape better. Just like any Metroid game, certain areas are blocked off until you obtain the right skill to unlock them. Throughout your journey, you encounter NPCs, all complement each area's theme. The area we saw was centered on artists, so we saw a musician and painter. Expect crazy boss fights from vicious trucks to floating heads as you prove you can think fast and persevere through the most chaotic situations. – Kimberley Wallace


Tokyo 42

Pitched as "the lovechild of Syndicate and Grand Theft Auto 1," Tokyo 42 is a colorful and somewhat retro cyberpunk assassination sim. The game takes place on an isometric plane, with your character navigating rooftops and alleyways, often crowded by foes, as they pursue their targets. Tokyo 42 is challenging, with both you and your foes dying in one hit during shootouts but there's also a lighthearted tone to all this madness, with roving nudist gangs taking on punks over territory disputes right before your eyes. Tokyo 42 is due out sometime in 2017. – Javy Gwaltney


Where The Water Tastes Like Wine

Envisioned as "a bleak American folktale," Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is a gripping and morbid adventure game that lets players explore the landscape of the country, using stories they find along the way as currency. The brief snippet we played showcased gorgeous visuals, a lovely soundtrack, and fantastic short stories that were both moving and macabre. – Javy Gwaltney


Ooblets

Ooblets combines the farming of Harvest Moon with the monster-catching of Pokémon. In Ooblets, you come to a new town and must make a new life for yourself. What better way to do that than to farm and have battles with the creatures (ooblets) you collect? Villagers will come up and challenge you Pokémon-style to battle with the critters you collect. The creatures are especially adorable. We saw a mushroom with sunglasses and top hot, who had attacks like "snot boop." Once you defeat a creature you don't have, you receive a seed, which you can then plant and harvest for a new ooblet to join your party. During your trek, you also explore different regions and find better items to help you get by. Hopefully, Ooblets can capture the engaging loop of the games it apes, but it already looks super promising and cute. Ooblets is coming to Xbox One and PC. – Kimberley Wallace

Tacoma

Fullbright's sci-fi game continues to shape up nicely. I had the chance to actually play through the segment that Tacoma showed off at last year's E3. The space station became even more intriguing since I was allowed to move around it and explore segments at my own pace. I dug around into the crew's personal effects and watched recordings of them as they played instruments and flirted with one another. Though the demo only last 10 minutes, I felt as I though I had a sense of who these people were and found myself wanting to know more about what happened to them. Tacoma's strongest quality continues to be its sense of mystery and I can't wait to see how that pans out in the full game. – Javy Gwaltney


Ape Out

Ape Out is a simple game at first glance. You play an Ape who has bust our of his containment cell and is trying to escape a maze filled with gun-toting baddies. Luckily for you, you're an ape. You can beat them to death with a single punch or even pick them up and throw them into other foes like bowling balls into pins. It's an enjoyable, gruesome loop bolstered by stylish visuals.  Ape Out is due in late 2017 and fans of Hotline Miami and its bloody ilk should take notice.– Javy Gwaltney


SteamWorld Dig 2

Developer Image and Form Games revealed at GDC's Nintendo Indie event that a sequel to the well-received mining platformer, SteamWorld Dig, is set to release on Nintendo Switch. In SteamWord Dig 2, we're reintroduced to Dorothy, a merchant from the original who now serves as the protagonist. From my brief hands-on impressions, it's clear that SteamWorld Dig 2 is much like its predecessor, but with improvements such as a longer, denser campaign. The gameplay will feel similar for those familiar with the original; you wall-jump, dig, and kill fearsome bosses to progress. A notable change, however, is that while the first game had procedurally generated levels, each one here was designed in detail individually. The temple-like area I dug through was stunning with the glow of small fires lighting the way and translucent pools of water to swim through, even though it all takes place underground. SteamWorld Dig 2 arrives on the Switch later this year. No other platforms have been announced at this time. –Elise Favis

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The Sexy Brutale 

Outside of its name (which is the name of the locale), The Sexy Brutale also has an interesting premise. This puzzle game places you in an English mansion that has been converted into a casino. When you attend an extravagant masquerade ball there, guests start to get murdered by the staff. It’s your job to prevent their deaths by reliving the day over and over Groundhog Day-style. You must explore the mansion to figure out every guest and worker’s whereabouts, discovering ways to alter the events. This can be anything from tampering with murder weapons to making sure other guests are aware their friends are in danger. Basically, you’re constantly spying on everyone to determine your next move. Every guest’s mask has special powers, and saving them from death grants you their special skill. This allows you to dive further into the mansion and obtain more information than your previous jaunt. For instance, one mask gave me improved hearing, which allowed me to hear conversations through doors. Turns out people love to talk about keycodes, which allowed me to access keylocked doors. I loved exploring the mansion and finding new things to uncover, whether it was a secret room, conversation, or more backstory on the crazy guests. There’s no fail state, so you’re free to relive the day as many times as you want while you figure out solutions. The Sexy Brutale is due out this spring on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.  – Kimberley Wallace


Russian Subway Dogs 

Russian Subway Dogs is, according to developer Spooky Squid Games, based on the real-life phenomenon of dogs in the Russian metro system. However, nothing about the game is realistic. You play as a dog (or cat) who's trying to trick civilians wandering the subway platforms into throwing their food in the air so you can catch it and restore your ever diminishing health. It's a fun, arcadey experience that gets more challenging as it goes along. – Javy Gwaltney


Mr. Shifty

Mr. Shifty is a top-down action game that is reminiscent of Hotline Miami's lightning quick fighting mixed with teleportation powers similar to X-Men's Nightcrawler. In this top-down action brawler, you infiltrate one of the world's most secure facilities in an attempt to pull off a heist. From my hands-on session, I found that the visceral combat is smooth and fun, and while the game is quick-paced, there are several ways to approach each stage. You can take on your enemies swiftly by engaging with them head on, or you can use your environment to your advantage or even stealth to sneak up on enemies. You can pick up objects, from a pole to a broom, which can help you deal more damage quicker. For example, one of my favorite items to use was a trident, which I could throw like a spear to take out a line of enemies instantly. Other times, I would bash a door down so that it would go flying into a guard's face. The animations are always amusing and satisfying, and so is the teleportation ability. Mr. Shifty also enables you with the power to shift through walls, so you can dash from one room to the next and catch enemies off guard. –Elise Favis


Observer

Observer is the new game from Bloober Team, the developer behind the spooky first-person horror game Layers of Fear. While Layers of Fear stuck closely to a haunted, gothic vibe, Observer is branching out a bit, taking place in the distant future where human beings are capable of jacking into each others' memories and thoughts by way of cybernetic implants. The 10 minute demo I played had me navigating the crumbling mindscape of a soon-to-be murder victim, trying to find my way out of twisting maze filled with jump scares and disconcerting images. So far, Observer feels like a cross between Silent Hill and Minority Report, and I can't wait to play the final version.  – Javy Gwaltney


Sundered

The creators of Jotun have a new, darker game on the horizon, and it's called Sundered. This metroidvania-style platformer puts you in the shoes of Eshe, who wanders a ruined, macabre world filled with monsters. During my hands-on time with the game, I enjoyed the unique, macabre aesthetics and the smooth gameplay. You make your way through one horrifying environment to the next by wall-jumping, using powerful attacks, and defeating bosses that are more than twice your size. As you progress and kill foes, you find golden shards, which can be used to collect skill points to level up your assortment of powers. – Elise Favis

Monster Prom

Monster Prom is an adorable send-up of dating simulators that has you trying to win the affection of a ghoulish love interest in a high school setting. Oh, did we mention that's also multiplayer and that you'll be competing against other players as well? Monster Prom not only puts a unique spin on the dating simulator genre but it also has oodles of style and humor to boot. You can find out more about the game here–Javy Gwaltney


Old Man's Journey

Old Man’s Journey is a relaxing, whimsical puzzle adventure game. You play as an old man venturing around the world and reflecting on his life, seeing the highs and lows of it. All you must do is create a path for the old man to move forward by manipulating the environment. This means raising and lower hills, which also affects the objects on the terrains and forces them in different directions based on the game’s physics. The hand-drawn art style is gorgeous and vibrant, taking you everywhere from the prairie to the seaside. At certain points, the man finds a place to rest, and once you interact with key items in the environment, a memory triggers. This is where you experience vignettes, showcasing an image of his life. The game has no text, just music and pictures to deliver its narrative. In my demo, I saw him fall in love, get married, and then leave holding a suitcase. A theme of the game is the struggle to balance personal fulfillment and family life, which has me intrigued to see its larger message. So far, even in the brief scenes, there’s an emotional hook I can’t deny. The game is due out this spring for PC, iOS, and Andriod. – Kimberley Wallace

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Flipping Death

During the Nintendo Indie event, Zoink Games revealed its newest project called Flipping Death. Billed as a spiritual successor to their past game Stick It to the Man, Flipping Death is a whimsical and bizarre puzzle platformer about a young woman named Penny, who is tasked with becoming a grim reaper following her death. You make your way through the afterlife by throwing your scythe to different ledges and using it to teleport. Along the way, you can possess the living. When possessing a human, your world flips and some objects and locales look similar but have different functions. For example, a monster in the afterlife takes the shape of a paint can in the real world. Taking control of different, funny characters is incredibly amusing, and each have their own strange ability. For example, a dentist can use his drill to help you solve a puzzle, but you can also terrify others with it for kicks. I enjoyed Flipping Death's strange premise, and look forward to its release. Flipping Death is coming to Nintendo Switch and other unannounced platforms. –Elise Favis

Into The Breach

Into The Breach is a recently announced strategy game from Subset Games, the makers of FTL. I got to watch a brief demo of the game in action and was pretty impressed with what I saw, both in how enjoyable the gameplay looked and how different Into The Breach was from FTL. Into The Breach basically takes the concept of something like Pacific Rim, pitting monsters against giant robots, and has you seeking to minimize damage to cities and populations. This isn't a "punch the enemy until they're dead" kind of game but instead one where your units, various mechanized suits, have special abilities that help you keep monsters away from the cities, which basically serve as increments of your health bar. An example, one unit can punch enemies down a tile, preventing them from attacking a city.

Into The Breach is, according to its developers, a good bit away from release but the slice of gameplay I watched demonstrated accessible but also deeply strategic gameplay set in a fun universe. –Javy Gwaltney

Anamorphine

Similar to games like Gone Home and Dear Esther, your only job is to explore and unravel a story in Anamorphine. The tale is dark, focusing on coping with depression and trauma. The game uses surrealism to explore dream-like memories of Elena, a woman who falls victim to an accident that robs her of her livelihood.  What’s unique is you see the game through the eyes of her significant other Tyler who revisits milestones that define their relationship. Tyler struggles with his guilt due to his inability to help Elena through her struggles, and as you explore you find metaphors to represent his feelings. For instance, the world will start falling apart as the character feels that way. There is no voiceover – simply music and the environment convey the tone. There’s an uneasiness and beauty to Anamorphine.  In my hands-on time, I explored wondrous backdrops; one took me to neon forest outside, only to have ugly plants get in the way, creating this feeling of dread inside me, as if darker times were ahead. You never know what’s waiting around the corner, and I was instantly intrigued about the characters and where the story would lead. Anamorphine launches this year on PC, Xbox One, VR devices. – Kimberley Wallace

Necrobarista

Necrobarista is an upcoming indie visual novel from indie developer Route 55 Games. There are lot of visual novels out there but what makes Necrobarista special is both the fact that the game's in 3D as well as its colorful artstyle and the world it presents, which channels the goofy humor of Grim Fandango. The game takes place in a cafe where the dead and the living can mingle. The gameplay segment I played through was goofy and enjoyable, though only a small slice of what the full game will be. Necrobarista is worth keeping an eye on even for those who don't like visual novels. Necrobarista will be out in early 2018. – Javy Gwaltney

TumbleSeed

TumbleSeed is described as a "rolly roguelike" where you balance a seed that easily rolls around on a horizontal vine that you can tilt left and right. You make your way up a colorful, procedurally generated mountain, all the while avoiding obstacles such as large holes you can fall into and dangerous foes. The gameplay is addictive and fun, requiring both patience and skill to carefully balance your way through hazardous environments. It has roguelike mechanics, such as permadeath and upgrades for each of the seeds you unlock. Each seed character has unique abilities, such as SpringSeed which lets you temporary fly and ThornSeed which throws tiny thorns at enemies if you wait and aim correctly. TumbleSeed arrives this spring on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. – Elise Favis


Graceful Explosion Machine

Debuting on the Nintendo Switch in April, Graceful Explosion Machine is a colorful, side-scrolling arcade shooter that has you control a 2D spaceship as you blast your way through hordes of enemies. I had a chance to play it at GDC briefly, and as someone who isn't big on the arcade shooter genre, I nonetheless came away impressed. As you progress, you unlock different abilities and upgrades, such as a sniper beam that deals a heavy hit and a 360 wave of damage called an energy sword that you can swing at enemies close by. What makes Graceful Explosion Machine stand out, however, is that every time you use abilities, you also use up the ship's power. It's a careful balance of using resources mindfully and figuring out how to blow up enemies in the most efficient way. The difficulty ramps up quickly, and these considerations become even more important as you progress to later levels. – Elise Favis

Knights and Bikes

This colorful and playful debut from Foam Sword, a new studio comprised of former Media Molecule developers, hardly lacks charm. Calling to mind adolescent focused period films like Goonies, Knights and Bikes transports players to a fictional island in '80s Britain. With their hometown facing financial ruin, two well-intentioned kids with vivid imaginations set out to save their city and slay its metaphorical demons. The cooperative adventure brims with nostalgia, from protagonists Ness and Demelza cruising the town on bikes to the duo facing off against each other in impromptu action-figure battles. The action/RPG gameplay encourages exploring the various locations in town to gather useful new items and a helpful companions. Look for the game on PS4 and Steam sometime in the future. –Matt Bertz

Pyre

Hot off the back-to-back success of Bastion and Transistor, Supergiant Games is once again making an action/RPG. But Pyre plays unlike anything the studio has made to date. This party-based game is grounded in its compelling fiction, which chronicles the life of an exile seeking to find a way back into society. As he learns from a pack of wanderers who saved him from the brink of death, a competition called the Rites is his best bet for redemption. This rugby like competition has two teams of players competing for control of an orb placed in the middle of the battlefield. Players must transport this orb through obstacles and past defensive positions to the opposing team's goal to score a point. Each player on the field has a unique set of skills, making some faster or more powerful than others. The fantasy action is fast paced, and we're curious to see how it intersects with the narrative as you take these exiles toward the promised land. Look for Pyre on PS4 and PC later this year. –Matt Bertz